FBI deleted records related to anti-Catholic memo, GOP lawmakers say

The Senate Judiciary Committee of Republican Senators is seeking “action and accountability,” after finding new details and discrepancies regarding an anti-Catholic memorandum prepared by FBI analysts in Richmond, Virginia last year.

The Iowa Republican, led by Sen. Charles E. Grassley, wrote to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray to ask about the revelations that top FBI officials had ordered analysts to delete permanently files related to the Memo, which identified “traditional Catholics” as potential domestic terrors.

The letter said: “Now that we know, information related to Richmond Memo was not provided to Congress as the FBI deleted records as soon the incident became public.” According to a report published by the House Judiciary Committee, on December 4, Deputy director Paul Abbate instructed Richmond Special Agent in charge Stanley Meador to “take [the memo] away” as soon as it was made public.

The lawmakers claim that Agent Meador received a “follow up call” from Tonya Ugoretz. Ms. Ugoretz is the assistant director of Directorate of Intelligence at the FBI. She instructed Agent Meador to inform the deputy director, as well as Ms. Ugoretz when “[he] had taken all the necessary steps” to remove the memo and any reference to it from FBI systems.

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The GOP lawmakers demanded a prompt explanation of the order to erase the records. They accused the bureau as obstructionists and asked why they withheld information from the Senate despite multiple requests for records.

The FBI said in a press release to The Washington Times, “As we have stated numerous times, this intelligence product did meet our high standards and it was removed quickly from FBI systems.” We provided Congress with hundreds of pages of briefings and documents to discuss our findings and to explain the many actions we are taking in order to correct identified deficiencies.

The statement stated that “any characterization of the FBI targeting Catholics is untrue.” The FBI is committed in upholding constitutional rights for all Americans. We do not conduct investigations solely based on First Amendment protected activity, such as religious practices. The FBI investigates threats of violence and violations of federal laws.

The Richmond memo, which was publicly leaked in January 2023, labeled “radical-traditionalist Catholic[s]” as potential “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists.” It stated that “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists (RMVEs) in radical-traditionalist Catholic (RTC) ideology almost certainly presents opportunities for threat mitigation through the exploration of new avenues for tripwire and source development.”

Wray, when the memo was widely publicized, denounced the document and dissociated himself and his bureau from it. He claimed that it was the work of only one field office.

In their letter, the GOP senators asked Mr. Wray about this claim.

Mr. Grassley stated that the testimony of Mr. Wray in Congress was at odds with the information the FBI provided him and the House Judiciary Committee. He said multiple field offices were involved. He said that the analyst who wrote the original anti-Catholic memorandum also prepared a copy for distribution to all FBI offices.

The lawmakers wrote Mr. Wray that in your testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee of December 5, 2023 you stated that the involvement of two other field offices was due to “two sentences, or something like that, referencing the cases of each of these offices, instead of the other offices reviewing a full memo.” “On this basis you stood by your previous testimony and said that [you thought] that this notion that the other field offices were concerned [was] garble.”

They wrote: “But this was not a garble. The Richmond memo itself mentions information obtained from an ‘Portland contact’ as one of the sources that the memo was derived from.

The Republican senators pointed out that certain information had been redacted from the public version, but was later given to the House in order to give the impression that the memo was only the work of one field office.

The information is important and material to us all, as well as to any member who may be concerned about the scope of the memo. Before you testified, members of Congress from both chambers asked about the scope, preparation, and distribution of the memo. The involvement of other field offices was therefore material information you should have provided. Its redaction combined with your testimony appears to show that you were deliberately trying to hide this information from us.

In its statement, the FBI said that Mr. Wray was “accurate when he testified the intelligence product had been produced by a field office, and that the authors of the document included a few sentences referring cases from other offices.”

The FBI stated that “an internal review by the FBI did not find any malicious intent to target Catholics, or any members of other religious faiths. Nor was there any evidence of any investigation steps taken in response to the product.”

During Mr. Wray’s testimony before Senate Judiciary Committee on Dec. 5, last year, he said it was a distortion to say that many FBI field offices outside Richmond were involved in the investigation of whether traditional Catholics presented a terrorist risk.

He told the panel that the idea that other field offices had been involved was a misunderstanding. “The only way the other two field offices were involved was that the Richmond authors included two sentences in the product referencing the cases of each of these offices.”

Mr. Wray stated that the Richmond field office only sent two sentences about other offices’ cases and not the entire product to the field offices. He asked both field offices: “Hey did we describe your situation right?”

He said that he did not remember whether he read the memo unredacted produced by the Richmond office before he testified previously to the House Judiciary Committee.